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26th Aug 2019

Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive

Social media outlets Instagram and Google Plus are joining ranks with other IT firms as part of a broader European Commission effort to remove online hate speech.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Friday (19 January), EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said the two firms would now join Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft to remove the offending material.

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  • Google's social network Google Plus is now also on board (Photo: Trey Ratcliff)

"The digital Wild West is over. It is time to balance the power and the responsibility of the platforms and social media giants," she said.

Instagram is photo-sharing app, whilst Google Plus, also known as Google+, is a social network based around 'circles' of friends and colleagues.

IT firms last summer adopted an EU commission code of conduct that requires them to remove online hate speech within a day of notification.

Jourova, who presented a review of those efforts based on a sample of reports, said the pace of the overall take downs had increased over the past year.

"From 28 percent in 2016, the rate of removal of online hate speech has gone up to 70 percent as of end of 2017," she noted.

The commissioner described hate speech as anything that has the potential to incite violence.

"In principle, you can offend, you can ridicule, you can make very critical offensive remarks, you can use satiric methods and it is all allowed," she said.

She noted Facebook had recently hired another 3,000 people, on top of an existing staff 4,500, all tasked to remove the material.

Out of a sample of just under 3,000 notifications of hate speech over a six-week period for all the platforms, Facebook performed the best and had removed 89.3 percent of the content in under 24 hours. YouTube managed 62.7 percent and Twitter 80.2 percent.

Racist comments against ethnic minorities, anti-muslin hatred, and xenophobia dominated the take downs.

EU justice ministers are set to discuss the results next week amid broader questions on whether to regulate the issue.

But Jourova, who appeared pleased with the results, said she preferred to keep the system voluntary and not to get the courts involved.

"We will continue to monitor this very closely and will consider additional measures if efforts are not pursued or slowed down," she said.

Similar national efforts in Germany, where companies risk a €50 million fine, saw a satirical magazine Twitter account shut down within days of the law being enacted.

The European Commission is also looking at ways of preventing online terrorist propaganda and the spread of fake news.

Facebook promises more privacy ahead of new EU rules

Speaking in Brussels, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, says the social media giant has "not done enough to stop the abuse of our technology." Her admission comes with new plans to wrestle with "bad content".

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